A French nanorobotics team from the Femto-ST Institute in Besançon, France, assembled a new micro-robotics system that pushes forward the frontiers of optical nanotechnologies. Combining several existing technologies, the μRobotex nano factory builds microstructures in a large vacuum chamber and fixes components onto optical fiber tips with nanometer accuracy.
The microhouse construction, reported in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A, demonstrates how researchers can advance optical sensing technologies when they manipulate ion guns, electron beams, and finely controlled robotic piloting.
Until now, lab-on-fiber technologies had no robotic actuators for nano-assembly, so working at this scale inhibited engineers from building microstructures. This innovation allows miniaturized sensing elements to be installed on fiber tips so engineers can see and manipulate different components. With this advancement, optical fibers as thin as human hair can be inserted into inaccessible locations like jet engines and blood vessels to detect radiation levels or viral molecules.
“For the first time we were able to realize patterning and assembly with less than 2 nanometers of accuracy, which is a very important result for the robotics and optical community,” said Jean-Yves Rauch, an author on the paper.
The French engineers combined all the technological components for nano-assembly—a focused ion beam, a gas injection system and a tiny maneuverable robot—in a vacuum chamber, and installed a microscope to view the assembly process. “We decided to build the microhouse on the fiber to show that we are able to realize these microsystem assemblies on top of an optical fiber with high accuracy,” Rauch said.
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